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I broke up with my boyfriend and moved back in with my parents. How do I get out of here?
By Cait Robinson
Dear Miss Information,
A week ago, my boyfriend and I broke up after four years, and I moved out of our apartment. That was sad enough, but the main problem is that my life as I know it has completely changed overnight. After gradually building a life in our nice, charming neighborhood, I'm suddenly back at my parents', and with my twenty-fourth birthday around the corner, I'm really struggling with it. I was living just minutes from the city beforehand, and now I need a bus to even get to the train. (Any New Yorker knows this is not okay.)
All the places a single person would go to meet people are suddenly miles away, and I'm relegated to living in a room with no lock and a shared wall with my parents. I work full time but am not yet financially stable enough to get my own place, nor do I have friends who are looking for roommates. I wish everyone in my house would be more sensitive to the fact that not only did I just break up with the man I once thought I'd marry but, more importantly, I've just uprooted myself from my life entirely. I mostly want to be left alone and to live like an adult, yet they seem intent on treating me like I'm seventeen and abusing my privacy. They also told me I cannot move my furniture into the house because there's no room, so it has to linger in my old apartment till I go, which is just prolonging a confusing attachment to the ex. Am I crazy for being frustrated? Help.
— Trying to Move On in Queens
Dear Trying to Move On,
Everyone regresses when we go back home. Each and every one of us. You show up with your suitcase, and the next thing you know you're watching TV in your underwear, eating handfuls of cereal out of the box, and shouting, "Nobody understands me! You never did! Goddamnit, I'm hungry." And if someone asks you to pick up after yourself? Forget it. This happens even under the best of circumstances; when a traumatic event is involved, it's even more pronounced.
There's a lot of stress in your tone, Trying, all of which is completely understandable. You just suffered a big loss, and you deserve time to grieve. When you say things like, "I wish everyone in my house would [treat me differently/act differently/leave me alone]," though, that is the voice of a seventeen-year-old: victimized and powerless. If you're frustrated with how your family treats you, look at your role in these structures. Maybe they snap back to seeing you as a seventeen-year old because that was the last version of you living at home that they knew. And maybe you regress to meet those expectations because, well, that's what happens. Instead of settling for these dynamics, try setting new standards.
Use every opportunity to take the high road. Thank your parents for making dinner, offer to pitch in with household chores, and demonstrate your exceptional maturity whenever possible. Have a respectful discussion of your boundaries, too: "Please don't go into my room when I'm not there, and please knock when I am" is a reasonable request. Also, consider using some of your earnings to pay for a storage locker for your things if they can't fit in the house. That will help cut ties with your ex and give you a small sense of ownership, a division between "mine" and "theirs."
Give yourself the time and permission to process what just happened, because it sucks, plain and simple. Try to be open to your parents' perspective here, too. Their daughter just had her heart broken and moved back home, and they likely don't know how to handle that. Perhaps it's easier for them to fall back on ingrained patterns than it is to grapple with what you, as an adult, need from them. So you, as an adult, should help guide them. Put your energy into working together, rather than falling into a "me vs. them" dynamic.
You won't be at home forever; it's just a space for you to regroup. Recognizing this will take some of the pressure off. See this moment for what it is — a transition — and focus on saving money, working hard, and enjoying your time out. You just need to make it workable for a short time, and then you'll be on your way.
Dear Miss Info,
Things are moving pretty fast with my current boyfriend, but I always get flustered when it comes to "the rules" or etiquette regarding the big "I love you" moment. I've never said it to anyone before. How long is a good amount of time after being in a defined relationship to say "I love you?" What if he doesn't say it back? Can you help me get over my nerves?
— Waiting for the L Word
Dear Waiting for The L Word,
As a rule of thumb, if you're caught up in the etiquette of "I love you," you're missing the point. It's probably not love if you're following a checklist.
That said, there are different camps on this one. Your reverence for the word dictates how discriminating you are in its usage. If you're of the "This was a great second date! I love you!" camp, then the word "love" is an easy-come, easy-go kind of thing. You think of it lightly, so you use it lightly.
Emotional octogenarian I am, I take the opposite tack. I put a tremendous amount of weight on the word. I think you're ready to say "I love you" when you're saying it for you, not for them — when it's an expression of a feeling you're so secure in, it may as well be fact. "I love you" = "This room is freezing" = "Cookie dough is the jam." From this perspective, "Is this the right time?" or "What if they don't say it back?" are almost moot points. You're acknowledging something that feels true to you, and that's important.
Regardless of where you fall on the "I love you and these bread sticks!" to "Whippersnappers, get off my lawn" continuum, stop agonizing. There are a million ways to show you are fond of each other, so don't feel pressure toward this one particular phrase if it doesn't feel right yet. "I love you" will bubble to the surface when it is ready.
Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.